What Our Children Can Teach Us About Nature
Our kids, unburdened by social impositions, accept the gifts of nature matter-of-factly. The tree to climb, the mulberries to eat, the cool water to wash dirty feet, the fascinating bug — they are all accepted, without any self-consciousness or hesitation. Children understand, in a way that we adults tend to forget, that they, we, all of us, are part of this system. They are not dipping in to plunder. They are participating in their birthright.
Children see the equal value of every single part of nature.
They know that the spider and the tiger are equal players in this game. Far before our first chat about ecosystems or habitats, my kids were engrossed equally by the moth fluttering at the window or the elephant swaying at the zoo. Dandelions are just as beautiful and worthy of bringing to Mommy as roses. Lily, my three-year-old, brings me a full-seeded one and holds it up to my face. “Bwow it, Mommy!” she says, and then cheers when I do.
Children bring very little fear with them.
Mine have all been afraid of thunder, at certain ages. And three of them have a healthy, instinctive fear of heights. Not debilitating; just an awareness that a fall would be painful. It’s a fear that helps them to proceed, but with caution, and I wish my fourth child would develop a bit of it. Other than those two fears — the loud, unexplained noises and the obvious danger of a fall — I see very little “natural” fear in them. Oh, there’s plenty of fear, but most of it is learned. My daughter used to bring me handfuls of cicadas. Now she calls me in when she finds a spider in the bathroom. And learned fear often leads to learned violence, something I find myself cringing at a little. Yesterday my three-year-old ran into the room, grabbed a shoe, and ran off, saying, “I find a BUG, Mommy! I gonna smack it!” Yes, she learned that from me.
Children exhibit a fierce disapproval of laziness and shortsightedness.
They are keenly judgmental, in fact, about littering, chopping down trees (“Why would anyone do that? It’s so sad!” is my daughter’s response), and misusing the resources we have. Of course they don’t know everything, don’t understand all the factors, and don’t always practice what they preach. I pick popsicle wrappers up off our lawn regularly. But this shortcoming comes from natural distractability, not a lack of caring. In fact, it’s their natural care for all of nature, all around them, that strikes home the most with me.
My kids are not interested in politics. They’re not armed with an agenda. They don’t understand global issues or far-reaching effects of poor environmental choices. They just love nature because they are part of it every day. They value it because it gives to them and they instinctively give back their affection, their protection.
Sometimes we see too far out, too far away. Sometimes we get so deep into saving the forest that we forget to be thankful for the single tree. That’s what we can learn from our children, something we need to find our way back to: loving nature and caring for it not because we should, or because we are afraid, but because we are simply and joyfully part of it.
Image Credit: Coley Christine Catalano
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